It takes a lot more than good food and reliable food services to run a successful food service management program for business diners. Many of the culinary trends transforming restaurants and retail food markets—the spread of the foodie culture and interest in sustainability and nutrition, for example—are taking root at the office. They’re converging with workplace trends aimed at achieving a variety of new business goals to shift how corporate dining is approached and delivered. Forward-looking companies have come to realize that onsite dining is more than just a convenience for time-strapped business diners. Instead, it’s a strategic asset that enriches the corporate culture and contributes to organizational performance. Here’s a look at 5 of the top trends influencing food services for companies and their implications for business. 1. Savvier, More Adventuresome Diners. The “foodie” label is no longer reserved for the small elite who dine regularly at expensive, 5-star restaurants and are lifetime subscribers to Gourmet. Social media and streaming TV have brought food blogs and cooking shows into the mainstream. Today, employees from all generations and walks of life are up on the latest cuisines, cooking techniques, nutrition facts and farming methods. Their expectation is that the corporate chef is at least as knowledgeable and creates menus to reflect it—including more ethnic foods, meals highlighting locally grown ingredients and a variety of healthy choices. As employees continue to demand menus at work that align with their lifestyles, food tastes and diets, employers will need to step up their efforts to find cost-effective ways to personalize the office dining experience in the café, employee lounge and through their onsite corporate catering offerings. 2. Serial Snacking. Until about a decade ago, eating three square meals a day was thought to be the foundation of a wholesome diet. Not anymore. Whether fueled by time constraints or the pursuit of healthier lifestyles, we’re seeing the rise of the snacking generation—workers of all ages who prefer 5 to 6 smaller bites throughout the day to larger meals served at peak hours. Today, smaller “snacks” are not only complementing but replacing traditional meals like breakfast and lunch. Employees’ notions of what qualifies as a snack are also expanding to encompass anything that’s sharable, consumed on the go, or viewed as healthier or less pricey than a full meal. Nor is a snack necessarily something you eat out of a package or your hand. Coffee, tea and premium beverages like juice and flavored waters fall into the snack category as well. The uptick in serial snacking, which rose substantially between 2014 and 20161 That means creating spaces where employees can grab a quick bite or take a coffee break when they need to recharge—like a self-service micro-market, or lounge anchored by a beverage bar or vending machine stocked with healthy snack choices. It’s also a call for more creative menu planning to satisfy employees’ growing appetites for smaller portions, more variety and healthy options. 3. Health and Wellness. The focus on health and wellness at the office is keener than ever, with a February 2017 HR Dive article2 showing 20% growth from 1996 to 2016 in the percentage of companies that offer wellness programming and information at the office. Equally noteworthy is the fact that 77% of these companies report their wellness programs have been effective in improving health outcomes and lowering healthcare costs. These statistics support a rising awareness of the power office relationships have on shaping healthy habits. When you consider how many waking hours adults spend at the office, it’s natural that their every-day behaviors are influenced by their co-workers. As health and wellness becomes more entrenched as a business priority, the role of registered dietitians (RDN) will also rise in importance. In food services for companies, RDNs are now an indispensable resource with their specialized knowledge of regulations and food labeling, as well as their experience creating health and wellness programming. RDNs are also integral to meal planning, working closely with corporate chefs to design menus that are nutritionally balanced, tasteful and satisfying. 4. Sustainability and Social Responsibility. When it comes to drivers of food and beverage purchasing decisions, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation 2016 Food and Health Survey3 reports that “sustainability” showed its highest increase since the question was first asked in 2011. Per the IFIC report, about 75% of survey respondents believe it’s important that food be produced in a sustainable way. And today’s employees want the option to stay true to these beliefs at work as well as at home. This is especially true among workers in the millennial generation, who put a premium on finding employment at companies that satisfy their desire for better work-life integration. At the corporate café, that means finding creative ways to minimize food waste by reducing the quantity of food prepared, reusing and repurposing uneaten food, and composting. It also means investing more in food labeling and cafeteria signage to satisfy diners’ need to know not only what they’re eating but where it’s from—down to the name and address of the farmer, in many cases. Employers that emphasize social responsibility are also partnering with their food services contractors to take sustainability beyond the cafeteria walls. This can include supporting community gardens on company grounds, purchasing crop shares from local farmers, and embracing “farm-to-fork” practices as much as possible. The menu at the company cafe is also more likely to feature dishes highlighting the latest sustainable food trends at restaurants—such as nose-to-tail and root-to-stalk cooking. 5. Focus on Employee Engagement. Studies show that employees with the most on-the-job connections are the highest performers; and that fostering a sense of community at work not only improves morale, but also performance. What do employees find helpful to building relationships with their colleagues at the office? For almost half (48%) of employees who responded to a seamless.com survey, 4 the answer is sharing a meal with coworkers—with more than half (51%) saying they’d eat with colleagues if their employer offered the opportunity. To enable this type of engagement, more companies are investing in their kitchen and dining spaces—whether starting from scratch or doing a cafeteria renovation or update. With evidence suggesting spontaneous encounters help spur collaboration and innovation, many café design projects are approached as parts of strategies to increase productivity. Today, the office cafeteria is often the hub of the organization, tastefully designed to invite people in and encourage mingling with modern touches like floor-to-ceiling glass walls, clusters of high top tables and strategically-centered exhibition stations. At the most innovative dining services operations, food quality and presentation may rival what you’d find at an upscale commercial cafe. More Businesses are Outsourcing Food Services for Companies. Companies that can successfully capitalize on growing food and business trends have a lot to gain. But as the role of food service in furthering broader organizational goals expands, all but the smallest of companies will find it increasingly challenging and in many cases, unfeasible, to rely on self-operated delivery models. Indeed, many medium- to large-sized businesses and even smaller firms that share office park facilities have already made the shift and are outsourcing food services for companies. The benefits are substantial and span everything from higher cost savings and better food quality and service, to relief from the headaches of managing staff, regulatory compliance and operations. Contact Café Services to learn more. ....................... Sources: "Foodservice Trend: Feeding the Big Appetite for Snacking." Blog post. Www.apffoodservice.com. AdvancePierre Foods, 02 June 2016. Web. 03 May 2017. McDonough, Amy. "Why 2017 will be the year for wellness." Blog post. HRDive.com. HR Dive, 23 Feb. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017. Raymond, Matt, and Laura Kubitz. “Functional Foods, Sustainability, Protein, CRISPR and What’s “Healthy” Among Top U.S. Food and Nutrition Trends in 2017.” Blog post. Foodinsight.org. Food Insight, 03 Feb. 2017. Web. 3 May 2017. "2015 Food in the Workplace Survey Reveals Food Perks Influence Millennials." Blog post. Seamless.com. Seamless Corporate Accounts, 15 Aug. 2015. Web. 3 May 2017.